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Next Generation Intel Atom for Smartphones

The long awaited Moorestown platform has been released by Intel. This was presented at the Intel Developer’s Conference in September 2009. The Moorestown platform consists of the new Z6xx Atom CPU (formerly known as Lincroft), a controller hub (formerly known as Langwell), a mixed signal IC and wireless options.

The mixed signal IC (MSIC) integrates several analog and power functions. The mixed signal ICs and the wireless options are available from several other IC vendors, not Intel.

What is significant about this announcement is that Intel has delivered on its promise to deliver a highly integrated version of Atom with very low power consumption and high performance. Intel was able to integrate many of the functions that were previously in the chipset into the CPU. These functions are a scalable bus interface and coherency engine, 3D graphics, display controller, video decode/encode and the memory controller. The previous generation Z5xx series (Silverthorne) CPU and this latest version are both manufactured at the 45nm node. The Z6xx has an Ultra-Low Power (ULP) core.

Intel is touting its new OS Power Management (OSPM). This is a power management program aimed at the entire platform not just the CPU. The OSPM provides fine grain power management to the CPU, controller hub and the MSIC.

The key components of the Moorestown platform are available today. Pricing was not provided.

The Z6xx is aimed at the smartphone market. Intel said that this can be scaled up to meet the requirements for tablet PCs. Currently there are few if any tablet PCs on the market to compete with Apple’s iPad and none with Intel Atom. Semico expects to see competitors to Apple emerge later in 2010. Intel said that products featuring Z6xx will launch later in 2010, but could not say which customers these would be. At the time of launch Intel demonstrated systems running Android and Moblin/MeeGo.

Will the new Atom Z6xx be a gamebreaker for Intel in its battle with ARM based devices in the smartphone and emerging tablet PC markets? ARM is well entrenched and the various ARM vendors are making improvements of their own. Moorestown does show that Intel can be competitive and that it can deliver on its roadmap for Atom. However, Moorestown and the Z6xx CPU are a transitional design. This is an important step in the development of Atom. However, the Intel product that has a better chance of success is the third generation in this family – Medfield. This next step is expected to be launched in 2011. The CPU for Medfield is slated for production on 32nm and will integrate more system functions, thus eliminating the chipset altogether and leaving the mixed signal and wireless functions as separate components. This level of integration holds the promise of delivering more performance with even lower power consumption and, presumably, reduce the total BOM cost.

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